Fight over Foulden Maar
An application to mine a fossil-rich site near Dunedin for animal food has been met with fierce criticism from environmental scientists.
Foulden Marr Pit. Photo by Kimberley Collins (CC BY-SA 4.0)
A majority-Malaysian company wants to create an open pit mine at the Foulden Maar site to collect diatomite – the fossilised remains of water-borne, single-cell algae called diatoms, which are full of silica deposits – and turn them into pig and cattle feed.
In June last year, scientists were assured they would continue to have access to the site in spite of the mine, but a report leaked to the Otago Daily Times has prompted fears that the applicant, Plaman Resources, intends to fully mine the maar.
Foulden Maar was formed 23 million years ago when a volcano erupted and formed a deep crater lake, Newsroom’s Farah Hancock wrote. The lake has since filled with the sediment from the microscopic diatomite plant and dried out, leaving behind a cache of fossils.
“From a scientific perspective we don’t yet know the importance of what it contains,” said University of Otago geologist Dr Daphne Lee, who wants at least half the site to be preserved in perpetuity.
“If it’s completely destroyed now, in the future people are going to say it would be like destroying Pompeii, ‘Why did you do that?'”
Dr Nic Rawlence, director of Otago University’s paleogenetics lab, told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan that the site was the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere that contained a record of the first major glaciation of Antarctica.
A petition has called on the Government to reject Plaman Resources Limited’s application, currently with the Overseas Investment Office, to purchase the neighbouring farm, which would improve the viability of the mining operation.